June 23, 2001
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When we brought the truck to the Fitzgerald Theater to load out for the last tour of the season, back on the morning of June 12, we found two cars sitting on Forbidden Asphalt in the Sacrosanct Alley. We labored mightily but could not quite back in between, so I set the rig across the street and called upon the Higher Powers, that they might bring down their Great Wrath, and in due course their agent appeared.
He was a big guy driving a wrecker, young, 6-2, wearing dark clothes with a lot of petroleum-based splotches. He wasn't real trim and wore very dark blue sunglasses, glass the color of those old blue Vaseline bottles, and he carried two cell phones loose in his shirt pockets. He backed in and then tilted the truck bed, the kind that say JERR-DAN on the side, so that the rear of it touched the alley, and he asked me to hold the phones and the glasses while he went to work under the first car, an older Toyota. He was covered with dirt, as one would be from crawling under cars in alleys to set chains and hooks, and he was smiling the whole time. I said, "So you pretty much arrive on the scene either as a saviour or the devil, don't you?"
"Yeah man, and I just love stealin' cars. I used to be a repo man, and then I really stole cars." The alarm went off when he dropped the chains on the sloped steel deck, so we carried on a dialogue under the squawking. "I hate car alarms," he said, "It's a lot more fun when it's not this noisy." He said it was kinda busy that night, kinda typical for a Saturday, which was why he took so long to get here.
He got it hooked up and asked me to hold the steel cable to one side until the slack was taken up, and he started the winch a-grinding. As the cable drew taut and the car climbed the inclined bed, alarm shrieking and squawking all the way, he laughed and raised both arms and said, "I LOVE MY JOB!" and lowered the bed to level. He had passed the point at which, if the owner appeared, he or she would have had even the tiniest shred of hope. From the looks of this guy, I would say the owner had not a shred of hope the instant he appeared with the wrecker.
He pulled in front of the second car, which remained silent, seeing what had happened to the first one. Perhaps hoping he wouldn't notice. He picked it up by the front wheels with an underslung hydraulic rack that moved ominously out until it contacted the tires, which he clamped into sort of cages. He got his phones and sunglasses back from me and thanked us for the call and drove off with both cars, happy as a clam. A man who truly enjoyed making strangers miserable, I thought, and realized how much we had in common.
As another season of being the greetings tyrant draws to a close, I can't help but mention how much fun it is to become more and more corrupted by arbitrary power like that. My job doesn't give that physical satisfaction of actually stealing somebody's car, but it does give one the imperial sensation of the thumb up or the thumb down. It's like the person who gives you the eye test when you go for your driver's license. You quickly say V-D-E-P-S-T-O and she might say did you say V-C-F-B-G-T-O and you say yes and she says okay; or she sends you up to the next line and you get the Corrective Lens Restriction.
In my case the corruption comes with the exercise of high-handed capriciousness, overbearing inconsistency, and blind ruthlessness, all done sitting down. You get two or three hundred greetings in a large hall and almost every one is legible and makes sense and would bring joy to both sender and recipient, and you gear up your haywire reasoning and your twisted sense of irony and hack through them in 45 minutes and toss away 90 percent and walk away with a clean conscience, grinning like an emperor after an afternoon series of blood-baths at the arena, strutting as if you had sunk an armada, leaving behind a few smiles and a great deal of disappointment, and you are quickly surrounded by your cortege of security guys and are whisked into a Lincoln Town Car and off to a secret destination for a large meal of raw meat and great flagons of red wine, to the accompaniment of loud music. And you think this is fun. And it is, because even a decent mild-mannered fellow like yourself, if given, whether by chance carelessness or bureaucratic malfeasance, the slightest bit of authoritarian power, you can become a pitiless peremptory despot within a few weeks.
People think you got the job because of your hard nose, your fearsome moodiness and your utter disregard for human feelings, but the sorry truth, and there usually is one, is that you got the job by sitting around doing nothing while everyone else backstage was busy, and someone said 'How about going through these greetings real quick' and you did that and somehow it just stuck. The cushy job fell to the person making the least contribution at the time, as is often the case. And the other sorry truth is that no matter how great the power, how feared and despised and envied the backstage dictator becomes at this, it's a dictatorial throne with very fragile underpinnings: there is the man out there under the stage lights who actually reads the greeting, and who always has the final say.
And that's no doubt a good thing, for everyone involved. The guy in the tow truck might agree: a certain amount of tyranny is good for everybody, but you gotta have limits; you can't just go around hauling everyone's car away, because sooner or later some other fool tyrant will come get yours.
. . . .